The faces behind the music: Female DJs at the 5Cs

Vani Dewan SC '21 stands in front of a DJ controller, which emits blue light. She is wearing a checkered green and black crop top, black jeans, a green and red jacket and headphones.
Vani Dewan SC ’21 DJs at Dom’s Lounge March 26. (Timothy Liu • The Student Life)

There’s something special about the moment a 5C party ends.

The music stops, the lights go up, Campus Safety ushers everyone out at 1 a.m. sharp.

Inebriated partygoers search for ways to keep dancing in the silence, hoping the DJ will play just one more song.

In these moments, when events come to their sudden, sweat-drenched conclusions, the power of the DJ is overwhelmingly clear. For the past few hours, without even realizing it, your night belonged to the person behind the mixing board; your body moved to the beat of whatever songs they were playing. With a click of a button or an adjustment of tempo, the DJ can send the crowd into frenzied chaos or subdued swaying.

Meet Vani Dewan SC ’21 (DJ Vani), Rose Soiffer-Kosins PZ ’19 (DJ Rose) and Flora Gallina-Jones HM ’19 (franc galina), some of the female student DJs shaping the 5C party experience.

Dewan, Soiffer-Kosins and Gallina-Jones all credit KSPC, the 5C radio station, for sparking their interest in DJing.

“I learned how much I loved exploring music and searching for ‘the song’ out of many that really fits a mood, so I started to DJ live events,” Gallina-Jones said.

Dewan and Soiffer-Kosins were both trained on the mixing board by Table Manners organizer Nick Imparato PO ’20. Table Manners, a student-run DJ collective run by Imparato, Dale Macauley PO ’20 and Brian Sibanda PO ’21, hosts parties in Dom’s Lounge every Tuesday night and includes time for “open decks” when new DJs can learn the basics.

“I didn’t have a board to practice with, so I kept coming back to open decks until I became comfortable enough to check out the board and practice on my own,” Soiffer-Kosins said.

Gallina-Jones has DJ’d some of the most popular parties at Harvey Mudd College, including Casemas, Slippery When Wet and Paint Party. “A lot of what I learned was [and still is] just by experimenting on my own and listening to other DJs’ sets,” she said.

When asked how she chose her DJ name, Gallina-Jones said, “These days, I go by franc galina, which is a phonetic spelling of my great-grandfather’s name. I chose to use it in part to honor him and that part of my heritage, in part because I like it, aesthetically, and in part because it makes my gender ambiguous [whereas my given name is very feminine].

“Though I do identify as a woman, I’m all about experimenting with my gender presentation, and when I’m DJing I feel most comfortable presenting androgynously,” she added.

Dewan, who has DJ’d popular events from Desi Beats to Eurobash, said she goes by the name DJ Vani because “[her] name means music and it seems fortuitous.” Soiffer-Kosins also uses her real first name as her DJ name, but plans on eventually changing it to something more original.

All three DJs bring varying styles and music tastes to the mixing board.

Soiffer-Kosins has performed at bars around Claremont and Seattle in addition to Table Manners.

“I love mixing crazy, unheard-of songs that I find deep in the internet with songs that a lot of people might recognize,” she said. “Plus oldies from the ’50s, like Dusty Springfield.”

Dewan’s favorite genres include Bollywood, South Asian pop, hip-hop and reggaeton, while Gallina-Jones said she has lately been mostly playing house and techno.

“The tracks I’m most drawn to have compelling [and] creative samples and a funky bassline,” Gallina-Jones said. “Something that will stick in people’s minds and get them moving.”

When it comes to electronic dance music, the industry is dominated by white male DJs. “Being a female DJ in a male-dominated field,” Dewan said, “requires me to assert myself and be confident and advocate for myself and why I deserve to DJ, or why I deserve to charge a certain amount for my sets. It’s always been really important to me to be prepared, and to practice a lot to master my craft.”

Gallina-Jones noted that “there’s really no shortage of incredibly talented [role model DJs who are women] in just about every subgenre.”

Nevertheless, she’s faced sexism throughout her DJing career.

“Sometimes, when I tell men that I’m a DJ, they try to mansplain a particular electronic music genre, piece of equipment or subculture to me. Or quiz me about the genres that I express interest in,” she said. “In those cases, I usually try to exit the conversation as quickly as possible. I’m here to play music and make people dance, not justify myself to anyone.”

Soiffer-Kosins shared similar experiences.

“When I play at bars I get bothered by so many men. I played a set at The Press in Claremont, and mid-set, probably five or six men asked for my number to ‘play at their party,’” she said. “It gets so frustrating when I am just trying to enjoy myself. Plus, I don’t really talk to many people while I DJ, as it requires a lot of focus. The last thing I want to be doing is talking to random men who won’t leave me alone.”

In spite of these setbacks and the gender inequality in the industry, Dewan, Soiffer-Kosins and Gallina-Jones all want to keep DJing after college, at least as a hobby.

“I love making people dance,” Dewan said. “Going to an event with good, high energy, interesting music and dancing your heart out can be so cathartic and really makes a night out worth it. That’s what I want to provide.”

This article was last updated April 30 at 10:50 p.m. to include the names of each Table Manners organizer.

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